The Giants Want It More Than the Phillies Do
Here’s the one thing that is clear in this year’s National League Championship Series: the San Francisco Giants are hungrier to win than the Phillies.
The Giants are this upstart team, with very little talent up and down their lineup, except for their pitching staff, a popgun team, if you will; but they are outplaying the Phillies in the passion department.
As I sit here writing on a Thursday morning, just hours after the Phils most bitter defeat in the last few years, the Phils will need a miracle to get back to their third straight World Series. That miracle is now in the hands of their three remaining starting pitchers: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt (who was forced to pitch in relief in game four, and possibly diluted his full power a little for his upcoming start), and Cole Hamels. The only problem is that those three will have to beat Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain in succession. [SIGNUP]
If you’re a betting man, right now, you take the Giants.
There are so many things to dissect about Game Four, but let’s start with the biggest: It was a colossal mistake to start Joe Blanton as the Phils pitcher in Game Four.
For all the great moves that Charlie Manuel has made as the Phils manager over the last several years, going with Blanton was not one of them. The Phils traded for Roy Halladay and shortly thereafter chirped about how strong of a starting pitcher Halladay was, meaning that he had the stamina and the talent to pitch multiple games in the post-season, more specifically, that he could start three games in a seven-game playoff series. Meaning: he could start on three days rest instead of the regular four days rest that starting pitchers normally have. Moreover, Halladay’s statistics on three days rest said that he had a 4-2 record and an ERA lower than 3.00. So why didn’t he pitch against the Giants on Wednesday night?
Instead, for reasons that are unclear to me (e.g. they don’t make a bit of friggin sense!), Manuel went with Joe Blanton, the rotund fourth starter, in the Phillies most important game of the season. Blanton hadn’t pitched in 18 days prior to last night. And if Manuel were to do a little more research, he would find that in the post-season, starters who have had a layoff of at least 16 days or more, are a startling 0-11 in those games they start after a long layoff, with an ERA of about six runs per game.
Blanton didn’t last five innings against the Giants in Game Four. The optimistic Phillies fan will say that he didn’t pitch that badly. The more baseball savvy fan will note that Blanton gave the Giants a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning, then another quick run to make it 2-0. And then, when the Phils had rallied to give him the lead, he promptly walked the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the fifth, the trigger to giving the Giants some offensive life. They scored a run that inning to get back into the game, then carried it over the next frame against Chad Durbin.
And that was the essence of why you don’t start Joe Blanton in the Phils most meaningful game of the year. Because at best the Phils were going to get six innings from Blanton (in this case they got LESS), and then they the would have to manage the rest of the game with a bullpen that isn’t as good as the Giants. As it turned out, they were so desperate late in that game to squeeze one more drop out of that beleaguered bullpen, they were forced to use Roy Oswalt. Blame Oswalt all you want. But it is completely unnatural for a starting pitcher, thrown into battle in the ninth inning, to be as comfortable on the mound as he would be following his regular routine and starting a game.
Don’t get me started on the way the Phillies played the rest of that game. In the eighth, Ryan Howard led off with a double to the left-center gap. Jayson Werth rifled a slider into the leftfield corner, scoring Howard to tie the game. We’ve seen this many times before where the old Phillies would rip open a game at this point. But here, you play for one run to take the lead. Unfortunately, Jimmy Rollins didn’t get the memo. It’s one thing to trust Rollins to hit the ball to the right side to advance Werth to third base with one out where a fly ball (or even a grounder) could score him to give the Phils the lead. But is it too much to ask Charlie Manuel to actually demand a bunt in that situation? Instead, Rollins popped the second pitch to the left side of the infield, effectively destroying the inning. And then Oswalt gave it up in the ninth.
I could sit here and go into great detail about how the Giants want it more than the Phillies right now. I could mention the fact that Shane Victorino, after he slapped a single to score Ben Francisco, watch with apparent paralysis at first base as Aaron Rowand airmailed a throw to the plate to cut down Carlos Ruiz. Victorino, who runs the 40-yard dash in a blur, should have darted to second base as soon as he saw the trajectory of Rowand’s throw, thereby putting another Phillie in scoring position. But who knows what goes through that guy’s head half the time?
Here’s what’s going through all of our heads: a winter of discontent and a season that was all for naught if the Phils can’t come back and pull this off. This was on paper, the best Phillies team that they had ever taken into postseason. And now, they are on the precipice of losing to the San Francisco Giants?
Say it ain’t so.